The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Democracy roadshow with rajas and ranis

Shimla, Feb. 20: Come election time, the scions of formerly royal families in this Himalayan state don’t fight shy of rubbing shoulders with “commoners”.

Fifty-five years after 30 major princely states, including Chamba, Mandi, Sirmaour, Bushehr and Suket, merged to form Himachal Pradesh, their urge to “rule” is still strong. Out on the campaign trail, the royal descendants flaunt their “blue blood” and relish being called “raja saheb” and “maharani” or “rani saheba”.

According to the “royals”, their assimilation in the democratic system has not diminished their old clout. “They make good candidates because of their appeal. They draw huge crowds mainly due to their charisma,” said BJP’s Solan candidate Rajeev Bindal.

“People vote for them because they feel they have no choice as many had ruled them once. But they are not invincible (either). This time, too, they are in full strength in Himachal Pradesh. Their booming political ambitions have made them join rival parties, putting their family ties on the backburner,” he said.

Many “royals” laugh away allegations that their blue blood fetches them votes. But many others like it when people bow down before them in respect. “We cannot help it. It is the people’s love,” said a relative of Nalagarh’s “maharani” Sukriti Kumari, a Congress candidate.

For the former royals, jumping into the poll fray in this Dev Bhoomi is seen as a way to strengthen their empire of influence. People still look on them with awe as the divide between the “ruler” and the “ruled” is huge.

Hamaare liye to raja saheb aur rani saheba hi sarkar hain. Pehle bhi thay aur ab bhi hain, chahe woh Congress ki ticket mein lad rahe hain ya BJP ki (For us, the king and the queen are the rulers, both when they ruled us and now when they are contesting on a Congress or a BJP ticket)” said Rajesh Sharma, a secretariat employee, looking on at posters of Kiran Kumari of Mandi princely state. She is contesting the Mandi Assembly seat.

Veerbhadra Singh, the raja of the former Bushehr state — now in Shimla and Kinnaur districts — heads the pack of “royals”. He has been chief minister three times and he may well be getting ready for a fourth.

Leading the Congress campaign, the former chief minister will contest from his traditional constituency of Rohru, where he has never been defeated.

Nine royal families of Himachal have been trying their luck at the hustings. At least seven “royal” members are in the fray for the February 26 Assembly poll.

Chandresh Kumari, the “queen” of a small formerly princely state of Lambagaon, is fighting from Dharamshala this time. Though defeated in the 1993 polls, she rose to be president of the All India Mahila Congress.

Sukriti Kumari, the novice Congress candidate from Nalagarh, is married to Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh’s cousin. As expected, she is banking on Amarinder’s appeal in the state to ride home. The Punjab chief minister has drawn much attention after he charged chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal with corruption.

Asha Kumari, a former state minister, is the daughter-in-law of the late Raja Laxman Singh of Chamba. She is in the fray from Banikhet constituency on a Congress ticket. Another former state minister, Yogendra Chandra, is a scion of the royal family of Jubbal in Shimla district. He is the Congress’ man from Chopal constituency.

Karan Singh of the BJP, too, is a former minister, from the Kullu royal family. He is contesting from Kullu.

Even in the 1998 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, blue blood had accounted for a major part of the candidate’s list.

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